The Batman of Africa?!? Gimme a Break!!!

DC Comic has recently announced the revamping of their entire line of comic books. This has cause much heated debate amongst fans, and I haven’t felt the need to weigh in, in part because I don’t care, and also because I don’t care. Did I mention that I don’t care?

But all of that changed when I read about a new title called Batwing. I’m not going to get into the details of who Batwing is, because it would be a long, complicated story that involves how DC creates these ridiculous events to sell tons of books. Instead, I will quote from a recent interview with the writer of the upcoming Batwing series, who describes the character as “the Batman of Africa.”

Some people may not have a problem with this, but it bothers me. It bothers me whenever a black character (or person for that matter) is described in contrast to a similar white character. Maybe that’s just me. I remember years ago, when blues guitarist/singer Robert Cray came on the scene, and everyone called him “the black Eric Clapton.” Or when Jackie Wilson, one of the greatest performers of all time, was referred to as “the black Elvis Presley.”

And to be honest, it is more than the fact that “Batwing is the Batman of Africa” that has me a bit irritated. My real problem is the way the comic book industry has a habit of segregating its black characters. I’ve been reading comics long enough to state with a certain degree of confidence that the vast majority of black superheroes have been limited to either being super and heroic in the ghetto, as the sidekick to a white hero, or, in the case of Marvel’s Black Panther, in Africa. Now, the concept of a black hero in Africa may have been groundbreaking when Black Panther first appeared, but that was more than 40 years ago. DC is employing a form of being racially progressive that was effective when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states. Now they are simply and woefully behind the times.

Some people won’t understand my problem with this whole Batwing thing. I don’t have a problem with Africa having a superhero. In fact, the entire continent of Africa could use several teams of superheroes. But I guarantee you that’s not what Batwing is all about. Batwing was a feeble attempt at DC to be racially diverse, but also being concerned that in doing so, they might upset hardcore fans. I get the feeling they looked at the sales numbers of Black Panther, and figured, “Someone is buying that book, maybe we can make that model work for us.”

And so they came up with Batwing, and decided to have him stay in Africa, because it is easier to populate comic books with black characters when they are in Africa, because…well…just because. As it is, even though Batwing will be fighting crime throughout the continent of Africa, he will be based out of Democratic Republic of Congo. In a recent interview, the series writer, Judd Winick, said he wished DC would send him to Congo and followed it up by saying, “I think I’d need a month or so to really soak it up.”

If Winick were to go to Congo to “soak it up,” he would be soaking up a nightmare of human suffering. War broke out in Congo in the late 1990s, and it is still being waged today in what had been called “The Great War of Africa.” More than 5 million have died through violence, famine and genocide. Sexual violence is used as weapon against the civilian population, in between 2006 and 2007, more than 400,000 women were raped. This is not a place you go to for a month to “soak it up” in preparation to write a comic book. This is a place you go to see how much suffering your fellow human being can endure, and the try to figure out how to solve the problem. And writing a comic book that will likely be cancelled in less than a year is not a solution.

I’m disappointed in DC, but not really surprised. They are pandering to an audience that is both rabid in their loyalty to fictional characters, but also racially clueless to the point many are actually bigots. Remember how bad people freaked out when actor Donald Glover wanted a shot a playing Spider-Man? You would have thought it was 1958 and Glover wanted to order a sandwich at a segregated lunch counter while molesting a white woman.

I hate to break it to some of you, but it is 2011. Barack Obama is the President of the United States. Will Smith is one of the top action stars in the world. The days of needing to keep black superheroes way over in Africa or as a sidekick have passed. Nor do we need to describe them as being the black Batman or the black Spider-Man. Our fictional heroes should come in all sizes, shapes, colors and genders. We need more female heroes that don’t look like porn stars. We need more Asian and Latino heroes who aren’t stereotypes, sidekicks or simply disposable. We need a world of fiction that is more diverse and accepting than the one we often find ourselves living in, if for no other reason than sometimes we want to escape the horrors of this world.

Boys and girls of all colors deserve to be able to escape to Metropolis or Hogwarts and find characters they can identify with on an ethnic level. The moment a black kid has to go to Africa or the ghetto to find a superhero that looks like them, the creators of that fictional world have failed to provide the sort of escape fiction provides to white kids. And in that failure, writers and publishers continue to reinforce the fallacies of racial inferiority that plague us all.

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